All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What Was Playing 90 Years Ago?

I was going through a box with my aunt this week and found this cartoon. It’s apt for my great-uncle Roger and his family, who were always going camping and canoeing and fishing and getting out into the woods. They also went traveling all around the world, but that’s a post for another time.

On the other side of the cartoon was a sampling of the movies playing in the local theaters.

Notice at the very bottom that Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer is playing. The Jazz Singer was released in the fall of 1927 and revolutionized the movie industry with its synchronized sound sequences. It was an amazing smash hit. What could have been playing against it that had a chance to compete with its popularity?

The stage show Chicago had its first filming in 1927 and is the same story as the one we are more familiar with, filmed in 2002 and starring Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere. Obviously, its scandalous story was incredibly entertaining, as it has been redone so many times over the intervening years.

Center top is an ad for The Cohens and Kellys in Paris, a 1928 sequel comedy to a film released in 1926 called The Cohens and the Kellys, a story about feuding Jewish and Irish families whose daughter and son marry. An inheritance goes to one family and then ends up belonging to the other, and eventually they reconcile. The films were both silent and another sequel was made later on.

On the right column, My Best Girl, starring Mary Pickford, was about a stockroom clerk who falls in love with the store chain owner’s son and has to win over his class-conscious family. It was Mary Pickford’s last silent film, released at the end of 1927.

In the center is King Vidor’s The Crowd, made in 1927 and released at the beginning of 1928, a silent film with very striking and innovative moving camera work that wouldn’t be duplicated until after World War Two because of the limitations of early sound cameras that replaced what King Vidor had used. The story is rather bleak, about an ordinary couple who face trials and tragedy and tribulations in New York City.

Back over on the left is Tenderloin, supposedly a part-talkie that mostly was synchronized music and sound effects recorded on Vitaphone records that played along with the film. The story is about a girl who falls in love with a minor member of a crime gang and gets arrested by accident. The crime gang wants her boyfriend to silence her in case she blurts out something inadvertently. People seemed to like seedy stories in those days before the Great Depression started!

The center column shows Lois Moran starring in the early 1928 film Love Hungry, the ads for which say: Fate has tossed a nice young millionaire right into Lois Moran’s lap—but love-hungry Lois can’t decide whether to grab him on the spot or wait to see if love will bring handsome Larry Gray to his senses! Wise little Marjorie Beebe knows what she’d do—and in doing it she reveals a genius for light comedy that gives her an undisputed place in the front rank of screen comediennes! The doubts and longings of the two young lovers, worrying over the universal problem of how to be happy though married on $40 a week, make “Love Hungry” both human and humorous. It’s a laugh-feast from start to finish. Don’t miss it at your favorite theater. If only we could see it now!

Back on the left Norma Shearer was starring in The Latest from Paris, a silent film made at the end of 1927 in which she plays a traveling saleswoman who falls in love with a traveling salesman and nearly loses him because she won’t give up her job until her younger brother no longer needs her support.

Norma Shearer and Ramón Novarro were starring in The Student Prince, pretty much the same story as the later operetta, but without the singing and with a sad ending. This is the silent version, bulky and awkwardly directed, with miscast leads who were, however, terrific actors. It was pretty popular back in early 1928, still playing to packed houses more than six months after its first release—notice that it’s playing in three separate theaters here.

In Broadway Daddies a nightclub dancer rejects a string of wealthy suitors for a poor young man who turns out to be a rich society boy. This silent movie was released at the beginning of April 1928, so that late date gives us an idea of when this newspaper clipping was dated.

Is Your Daughter Safe? was a 1927 exploitation film with medical clips and newsreel and pseudo-scientific content, some of which was nearly fifteen years old then, all jumbled into a loose plot about prostitution, or white slavery, aimed at warning young white women against sexual predators and venereal disease. The explicit scenes caused considerable scandal in many areas of the country. Notice that this ad says the showing on this date is for women only!

The Flying Romeos featured a couple of airplane pilots and probably had romance and comedy. It’s a lost silent film from February 1928, but there are some supposed clips and one claim of a full-length showing on YouTube.

Down at the bottom of the clipping, next to Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, is an ad for Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen and a double feature showing Rin Tin Tin (the dog—remember him?) in A Race for Life. The Valentino film was made in 1921 and shot him to stardom. It exploded into huge popularity with its anti-war theme and scandalous depictions of illicit relationships. It’s in the public domain—you can download it yourself because it is out of copyright. The Rin Tin Tin picture isn’t described anywhere that I could find. Of course the dog is going to save somebody’s life. He always did.

There you have it. In the early spring almost 90 years ago this was what you could see in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. It is a perfect snapshot of the transition in the movie industry between silent and talking pictures. It is also a snapshot of societal trends that changed when the Great Depression started just a year and a half later; audiences then lost their taste for realistic, sad, or gritty shows and wanted frothy escapism. Enter Fred and Ginger, my favorites!


  1. This was fun to do and for me to read what you have written!

  2. There was a silent called Beggars of Life that was filmed partly on the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railroad. They set fire to a flat car loaded with lumber and burned it with a boxcar and a caboose as they let it run off a temporary spur track in the Carrizo Gorge Canyon. The steel parts, wheels and such, are still there on the side of the canyon below the track. I have watched it on YouTube. It was filmed in 1927 or 1928. I will not issue a spoiler, since I think it was very well acted and had a good plot.


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